At the rodeo on this summer day in Futaleufú, a tiny town nestled against the Argentine border, this father and son cleaned up. The aim of a Chilean rodeo is to pin the novillo (calf) against a padded board, with various points given for the haunches, the midsection or the shoulders of the calves. It’s a sweaty affair (see photo), and a giant crowd comes to watch.
During this rodeo, they had trouble finding enough calves for the huasos (cowboys) to chase, and they had to go to surrounding towns and hamlets to find more. After racing around the pen for about five minutes, having been pinned to the wall a number of times, the calf is let go, and its back marked with red spray paint, so that it wouldn’t be forced to run again. Rodeos can be mean, but at least they tried not to make this one cruel.
At last count, this town, and the eponymous river, a world-class rafting and kayaking class 5 highway, which people the world over come to run, has been covered in 30 cm (more than ten inches) of volcanic ash. Volcan Chaitén started spewing ash into the air weeks ago, and it’s been drifting east across the continent ever since. This tiny town was not spared. The streets, the plaza, the tiny and loud cafe with the books, where I ate the world’s best piece of cake, which strangely had manjar (cream caramel) and raspberries in it, the tourism outfitters, the Futaleufú river with its grinding torrents of cucumber-fresh water, and even the Rio Espolón, slow and good for families and float trips, it’s all covered with nearly a foot of floury volcano dust, fallen from the sky where it hung in a giant plume.
I am so sad for the townspeople, for the rivers themselves, and even the calves from the surrouding towns and hamlets, most of whom surely have perished in recent weeks. The town of Chaitén (closer to the volcano was 90% flooded the last I heard, the ash damming up the rivers which overflowed their banks and that now flow over people’s yards, and into their homes. Futaleufú has surely suffered a similar fate.
And strangely, all I want to do is go back this summer, and prove to myself that it’s not true, that this beautiful place is not gone.